Archive for October, 2018

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NEW PB / Polling Matters podcast. Looking at the US Midterms with ex-White House Coms director Anthony Scaramucci

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

This week PB / Polling Matters will unveil a series of special podcasts focusing on the US midterms. These podcasts will vary in content. Some will talk numbers with the pollsters and some will talk the issues behind the numbers with journalists and other political actors.

The first in our series sees Keiran Pedley speak to Anthony Scaramucci. You can listen to the show below:

Scaramucci is a leading Trump supporter, serving Trump in a variety of roles including an infamous 11 days as White House Communications Director in 2017. During their conversation Keiran and Anthony discuss Scaramucci’s new book ‘Trump: The Blue Collar President’ and how Trump commands such loyal support among white working class voters in the U.S. Keiran and Anthony also discuss issues of race and gender in US politics, GOP prospects in the midterms and how the economy will impact Trump’s re-election prospects in 2020 (plus who the president would and would not like to face).

Follow this week’s guests:





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The pound rises on the FOREX markets after the BrexSec reports that a deal maybe only three weeks away

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Raab names November 21st as the date

There’ve been developments in the government’s negotiations with the EU on Brexit, with Dominic Raab, saying in a letter to MPs on the Brexit committee that he will be willing to give evidence once a deal was finalised and that they currently expected November 21st to be suitable.

It appears that the government is looking to finalise a deal at the meeting of the European Council schedule for mid November a timing which would allow this TMay to get backing for the package, whatever it is, from MPs before Christmas.

Whatever the final details are this move creates a level of certainty which business and others have been seeking ever since the referendum outcome on June 23rd 2016.

    For many the fact a deal is in prospect is far more important than the detail and that is TMay’s great strength.

In his letter Raab said that the EU had accepted a UK plan for a partial solution to the Northern Ireland issue which would avoid a hard border. This has been a sticking point for a long time and made more complicated by the fact that the government is reliant on the DUP for its support in the event of a confidence vote.

On Betfair it is now it’s 62% chance on the market that Britain will leave the EU as planned on March 29th next year.

Once the deal is agreed the next stage is for it to get through the Commons and it is far from certain whether MPs will accept it.

Mike Smithson




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Sales tacks. What to do with the high street holes caused by shop closures

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

This has been a torrid time for many retailers. Every week brings news of another familiar high street shop on the skids. House of Fraser, Toys R Us, Maplins, Poundworld and Gaucho have all gone bust. Many household name chains are closing stores at a rate of knots. Rumours abound of big names struggling. 

You would be forgiven for thinking that retail spending had been hit. Far from it. Retail spending continues to grow.  It grew to the end of September by 3%.

Popular opinion has it that this reflects a move to spending online. According to this view, as a result of the likes of notonthehighstreet.com, far too many familiar names are not on the high street any more. 

There is such a shift, but this is far from the whole truth. In 2017, the most recent year for which we have figures, spending continued to grow at traditional shops by a perfectly respectable 2.7%. While online sales increased at a much more racy 15.9%, in absolute terms spending increased nearly as much at traditional shops (by just over £7 billion) as through online sales (by £8.2 billion). Online spending is increasing proportionately but it is not yet directly eating into retail spending in traditional shops, so far as we can see.

So other forces are also at play here. As well as a shift between modes of spending, there are, as always, shifts in spending patterns by type. Primark, Lidl and Aldi have been gaining market share and profits. At the other end of the spectrum, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Masons and Selfridges have all posted buoyant profits.

The impact seems to have been felt most in the mid-market. Marks & Spencer, in many ways a bellwether, have endured three years of falling profits. This has been reflected in stock market valuations. JD Sports for a while had a higher market valuation than Marks & Spencer (recent market movements have reversed this). 

Well this is all very interesting but what does it mean? If you work for one of the struggling retailers, job security is a worry. The bigger social impact, however, is probably the effect on Britain’s towns. Whether or not these companies go bust, many are on a programme of closing shops. Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Homebase, Mothercare and House of Fraser are all reducing the number of outlets. The high streets have lost Woolworths and BHS in the recent past. New shops are not taking their place. Retail life is being sucked out of Britain’s towns.

The most marginal outposts are often in the most marginal towns. Marks & Spencer is closing 100 shops by 2022. So far it has announced or implemented 35, which include Andover, Basildon, Birkenhead, Bournemouth, Bridlington, Clacton, Darlington, Dover, Durham, Falkirk, Fareham, Fleetwood, Keighley, Northampton, Portsmouth, Redditch, Slough, Stockport, Stockton and Walsall.  House of Fraser is closing 31 of its 59 stores, including Birkenhead (again), Bournemouth (again), Carlisle, Doncaster, Hull, Plymouth, Swindon and Wolverhampton. Debenhams have yet to unveil their list.  It no doubt will include a similar roll call of medium-sized towns.

These are very diverse places. But they have this much in common – none of them are world centres of anything and all of them have lots of people who quietly want a slightly better life for themselves – or at least, for life not to get any worse.

The cultural damage caused to these places by these closures will be substantial.  Often these shops were mute symbols of modest and respectable aspiration in places where anything exciting usually happened elsewhere.  Those places will feel smaller, less loved and more forlorn.

This problem has been much-commented on.  If you’re not looking at what Centre For Towns, an independent think tank with Labour roots, is doing then you’re missing a big part of the jigsaw puzzle that is British politics today.

Labour, noting that places like those listed have an outsize number of marginals, have been campaigning hard on the need to do more for the country’s towns, producing slick videos about the problems that towns face.  This looks like a smart strategy for them to pursue, and a definite improvement in this regard on the much more metropolitan campaign Ed Miliband had by default fought. Expect to see them continue with this theme.  There’s a reason why Jeremy Corbyn asks Prime Minister’s Questions about bus routes.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer took a couple of eye-catching steps in the budget to address this problem, imposing a new levy based on profits made online in Britain and easing restrictions on converting shops into residential property. Neither measure looks very meaningful. The amounts raised by the levy will be chickenfeed in the context of the problems the high streets face (it’s far from clear that shop closures are being driven by the move online anyway) and it’s all very well converting shops into residential property but you have to give people a reason to live there. 

There is a substantial danger that with the loss of a social heart, many towns will become dormitories for the poor, just as many of our coastal towns already have. With local government having undergone swingeing cuts this decade, the capacity for that to be addressed locally has been sharply reduced. The omens are not good.

So the question that now needs answering is what a lot of our towns are for. Right now, the politicians seem short on answers.

Alastair Meeks


PS – If you think you know Britain well, try this quiz. I got 82.



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After 30 years the curtains close on regular Guardian/ICM polls

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

The longest lasting poll series in British politics comes to an end.

This is something of a sad moment in British politics. The longest lasting polling series, ICM for the Guardian, has come to an end after a total of 30 years. Polls have been running from the firm in the paper at least monthly since January 1989 when ICM replaced Marplan as the paper’s voting intention provider.

The first one, as seen in the chart above, was in January 1989 when Mrs Thatcher was still heading the Conservative Party and showing a 4% lead.

Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian political team tells me:“We couldn’t justify the cost given that scepticism about the reliability of polling makes them less newsworthy than they used to be in the past.But we haven’t cut our links with ICM and will still be commissioning polling from them on a more ad hoc basis”

During the three decades of running polls for the paper ICM established a formidable reputation. It was the first to take action after the GE1992 polling disaster when none of the firms got it right. Under its then boss, Nick Sparrow, it pioneered past vote weighting to deal with what was then a systemic bias towards LAB in voting polling caused partly by what was described of the spiral of silence amongst CON voters.

For a long period Guardian/ICM polls were regarded as the “gold standard” a reputation that did not survive GE2017 when its final had the Tories with a double digit lead.

A notable correct prediction in more recent times was the ICM/Guardian poll for AV referendum which was correct to 1 within decimal point.

ICM also did remarkably well with the Brexit referendum with it last polls published online and phone surveys more than a week ahead showing Leave 4-5% ahead.

The pollster that’s still around  doing voting intention surveys the longest is MORI, now Ipsos-MORI, which began in the run-up to Mrs. Tharcher’s victory at GE1979.

Mike Smithson




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It is now a 33% chance on the betting markets that there’ll be a general election next year

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018


Chart Betdata.io

ATTENTION “Brenda from Bristol”!

I can’t remember a time when there has been so much uncertainty about the short and medium-term of British politics. With the Article 50 date for Brexit less than 6 months away and still no deal with the EU it is extremely difficult to project what’s going to happen in the coming months.

Labour is pressing for a general election and will use its MP numbers and what other power it has in the Commons to force TMay to go to the country again. That is understandable and all oppositions all the time should be wanting a general election as soon as possible even when, like Labour at the moment, they are behind in the polls.

But is it going to happen? Will it be necessary for Mrs May or her successor to go to the ountry at least 3 years ahead of the due date under the Fixed Term Parliament Act?

The prime minister’s position remains precarious and it was less than a week ago that we were being told that she would face a show trial when she attended the meeting of Conservative backbench MPs. It didn’t happen but the restlessness is still there. Many are not convinced of her EU approach.

The question of who would replace Mrs May should she go soon is also far from clear. The Home Secretary,Sajid Javid, is currently favourite on the Betfair Exchange but he is less than a 14% chance which is far from convincing.

The huge issue for Number 10 is going to be getting whatever Brexit deal is agreed through the Commons and there’s little doubt we’re going to see split votes amongst the main opposition parties as well as the government.

The pressure for a third EU referendum remains strong as we saw on the streets of London just 10 days ago. Even if there was another vote it is far from clear that the question would be to leave or remain. It might be that Mrs May would simply seek backing for whatever deal she negotiates the alternative being no deal and all the issues that that creates.

Time has almost run out for a 2018 general election and as can be seen in the chart the money increasingly has been going on one in 2019.

I am far from convinced. Even if Tories had a new leader there is no reason at all why that person should need a mandate and the experience of last year is a great reminder of what a fantastic risk going to the country would be.

I’m not betting on an early election.

Mike Smithson




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Hammond’s budget: the tabloids react

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

The budget – at least its been a break from Brexit

My guess is that the Tories will not be too unhappy about the coverage of the budget. Mostly the papers are positive or neutral and he has managed to avoid horrors of the past like George Osborne’s pasty tax.

So initially job well done and some prominence for the Chancellor who is nothing like a high profile as his predecessor George Osborne, who was sacked by Theresa May just after she became leader.

I just wonder whether Hammond might be back in the frame to succeed Theresa May assuming there won’t be any contest before the Brexit deal has been agreed and has been implemented.

He does not get the attention of other possible contenders but as John Major’s 1990 experience shows that can be no bad thing. A big negative until now has been that he has firmly been in the remain camp. After Brexit that might not matter as much and if things go wrong then could be a real positive.

Mike Smithson




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Seven days before the Midterms Trump sees a sharp drop in his approval ratings

Monday, October 29th, 2018

With just a week to go before Trump’s first major electoral test since becoming President the latest Gallup approval rating sees a biggish drop. The chart shows that polling over the past week his net ratings edging down 4% to minus 14. This reverses a recent trend of his ratings getting better.

In previous midterm the President approval ratings have been a broad indicator. Although Trump will not appear on any ballot next week his big message as he has toured the country is that these elections are about him.

What’s happened in the past few days is that Trump’s campaign has been thrown a off track by first the pipe bombs that were sent to major figures including two former Presidents. Then there was the slaughter of Jewish people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Trump’s irritation at not being able to campaign in the manner he would like has been reflected in a range of Tweets.

He had been developing as an issue the so called “caravan” of potential immigrants who are moving through Mexico with the apparent intention of going to the US.

We need, of course, more polling but if other pollsters are showing a similar direction then that could add to the Republican party challenge in the elections. If punters are right the Democrats will take the House of Representatives while the Republicans will hold onto the Senate.

Mike Smithson




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The budget spread bets – how many times will key words be mentioned?

Monday, October 29th, 2018

At 3.30pm the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond will rise to set out his latest budget. I must say that I am still not used to this taking place in November and on a Monday. Throughout my adult life budgets have happened in March or early April and never on a Monday.

We are where we are.

I like the different approach to budget bets taken in the above Sporting Index set of markets. How many time will certain things happen or be said.

I’m attracted by “Brexit” which surely will be said more than fibe times. The length of speech is always an interesting gamble. When Gordon Brown gave his last budget I “sold” the number of minutes and found myself cheering him on whenever he began to talk fast.

Have a good afternoon.

Mike Smithson